A California gas station has been placed under investigation after a lottery ticket that should have returned a $75,000 reward earned its holder, who was actually a state inspector, only $75 in cash, a California lottery official said Monday.
The gas station released surveillance video of the purported winner on Sunday in an effort to identify the man and reward him his rightful earnings, the station's manager said.
Various Los Angeles-area news outlets ran the story, reporting that the gas station was attempting to find the $75,000 "winner."
But the video actually shows an undercover investigator from the California Lottery on an inspection stop, Russell Lopez, a spokesman for the lottery, told KTLA.
There was no "winner," Lopez said.
Taken from behind the register, the video shows a man in a brown short-sleeved shirt and a backwards baseball cap waiting as the clerk examines the ticket and hands over $75. The interaction, which appears to take a few minutes, occurred March 25 at a Chevron station on Sierra Highway at East Avenue S.
"Since the store held onto the ticket, it appears the ticket was mishandled," Lopez said in a brief statement to KTLA. "We are currently investigating this case."
The California State Lottery Act requires year-round compliance checks "to protect our business, our players, and yes, our retailers," Lopez said. Compliance is 98 percent, meaning almost all retailers "act with integrity and honesty," Lopez said.
Chevron station manager Shamsun Islam said the clerk realized his mistake after the apparent ticket-holder left.
"He feels so bad," Islam said of the clerk.
The man had turned in a ticket for the top prize in the Wild West Poker Scratchers game. Players have a one in 1,196,120 chance of winning the $75,000 prize, according to the lottery's website for the game.
"I talked to him. I showed him the video, said Shamsun Islam. "He said 'OK this is a true mistake.'"
The clerk immediately called Islam, who in turn called her boss, who instructed her to call California Lottery officials. Islam said lottery officials said someone would come by to pick up the ticket.
After several weeks, when no one appeared, she reached out to news media to try to find the man she believed was owed $75,000.
"I tried my best," Islam said.
No determination has been made as to the intent of the gas station clerk or manager, Lopez said. He told the Los Angeles Times that officials were trying to determine if authorities were ever notified about the ticket, and if any fraud was committed.
Until Shamsun went public with the surveillance video, officials had been waiting to see if anyone would try to file a claim on the $75,000, the Times reported.
Islam, meanwhile, urged lottery players to always fill out the fields for name and contact information on their tickets.